Thomas Frank has a pessimistic view of the media’s “war on Trump” that raises quite a few good points:
- Groupthink has got to go.
- Being in constant “Trump in crisis” mode is a sure way to make the public tune out.
- The marketplace is complicated.
I think (2) is the most immediate problem to tackle. Let something else lead the front page or the email newsletter sometime. Maybe tackle an issue in which Trump is relevant but not the dominant player. That might actually be more effective in demonstrating the harm this president is capable of causing. His Tweets, as juvenile as they are, aren’t going to toss millions of people into poverty or start a war. (Probably.)
Then (3) is a tough one. The notion of Trump taking instruction from a morning show of right-wing bullies and news-twisters the way a toddler takes instruction from Dora The Explorer is hilarious and horrifying, and it shows how the “pick your own media” landscape can be harmful. (If only someone had warned us about that in a grad-school thesis back in 2000.) But if anyone has found a way to fight back against Fox and Friends (or the “Dirtbag Left” that figures everyone might as well cede the moral high ground and race to the bottom), please let me know.
But for (1) — there’s an irony on groupthink. The groupthink on groupthink is that groupthink is bad. Sometimes, it isn’t.
Consider what Frank says here:
These things don’t happen because the journalists that remain are liberals. It happens because so many of them are part of the same class – an exalted and privileged class. They are professionals and they believe in the things that so many other professional groups believe in: consensus, “realism”, credentialing, the wisdom of their fellow professionals and (of course) the stupidity of the laity.
First of all, I think a lot of journalists would be surprised to learn that they’re exalted and privileged. It’s rare to find a print or online journalist who couldn’t be making twice as much money elsewhere. If you want to make the same money you could’ve made by taking the law school route instead of paying your dues in journalism, you have to be a TV talking head. A reporter or editor at The New York Times or The Washington Post is probably making enough money to get by in a big city, but that’s the top of the pyramid.
And today’s New Media journalist? Looks like Vox pays decent money, but I doubt their staff is “exalted.”
But more importantly — many of the things Frank says professional groups “believe in” are things that everyone should believe in. The “wisdom of professionals” and “credentialing” is at the heart of everything from science to economics.
The “stupidity of the laity” is harsh as a general statement. Consider the great quote from Bill Nye, reminding us that everyone’s an expert on something.
But Joe the Plumber wasn’t an expert on economics. Coal miners may or may not be experts on climate change. Jenny McCarthy is not a freaking expert on vaccine safety.
Where consensus exists, it has to be announced. Loudly.
And yes, that means a steady beat of fact-checking on the sheer volume of bullshit emanating from the political realm these days. And elsewhere.
And it’ll make you unpopular. A couple of people aren’t happy with me to this day, but it’s not my job to let false or grossly misleading statements go unchecked. My first college-paper editor, one of the nicest guys in the world, had a saying: “This is no place to be nice. This is a newsroom.”
So the challenge here will be to meet Frank’s valid critiques without pandering. Without conceding. Make clear that it’s not a “war on Trump” but a “war on bullshit.” Go ahead and piss off the Bernie bros now populating the “Dirtbag Left,” too, because the right-wing media is too incompetent and myopic to do it.
Good luck. We’re all counting on you.